Halloween is always a good reminder to do a check in with your team, and in particular the rookies, to see who is the real deal and who is just a dude walking around with an ax and wearing a cheap goalie mask.
One reason to look at the rookies at this point is because of the Collective Bargain Agreement rules on entry level contracts. Essentially, once a rookie plays 10 games for the big league club, their entry level contract begins. If, however, the team decides to send them to their minor league team (or to Juniors), then the contract start slides to next year. At this point, most of the rookies have hit around eight games played, so it’s the perfect time to assess whether or not they can help your team out.
The first few guys here aren’t going anywhere, obviously. But what about those closer to the fringe…?
I CAN SEE THE CITY LIGHTS
- Auston Matthews, TOR – This just in: Despite the big 4-goal game in his debut, Matthews is still a rookie. He will be inconsistent. Count on it. Did I mention the last three games? Actually, there’s nothing to mention, if you know what I mean.
- Patrick Laine, WPG –Laine, despite being in the shadow of Matthews on draft day, is more than holding his own. At this point, you can count on PP production – he’s playing huge minutes on the man advantage and getting a lot of shots on net. He’s already been hard to pin down as consistent, but he has provided 2 multi-goal games already in his short career.
- Connor Hellebuyck, WIN – Hellebuyck had a rough first couple of outings, and is currently only starting 50% of the games, but his stats are trending way up. Start him if you’ve got him!
- William Nylander, TOR – Nylander was already an exciting pick, but he and Matthews together on a line? Wow. Just wow.
BIG TIME (They’re on their way, they’re making it!)
These players are all getting big time opportunities right now; Either playing on the top line or getting prime PP minutes, or both. All are worth a spec add in case they stick in that situation.
- Anthony Beauvillier, NYI – Andrew Ladd’s loss could be Beauvillier’s gain, as he replaces the veteran on the top line. He’s fast, is a proven scorer in the minors, and oh yeah, he’s now John Tavares’s wingman. Ka-ching. His ice time has trended way up since the season started – and he’s just been given a taste of PP time as well. I’d add him on spec in case the perfect storm hits Long Island.
- Ivan Provorov – Provorov has done well offensively, while becoming a mainstay on the 2nd PP unit. Lately he’s had trouble with the ol’ plus/minus, so some defensive issues may exist. That said, the Flyers have outright said he’s here to stay, and his steady dose of ice time supports that statement.
- Pavel Zacha, NJ – Zacha was supposed to be the 3rd line center this year. But he’s moved up a little. You may have heard of his new linemates, Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. Zacha’s production hasn’t turned any heads yet, but if he sticks on this line, he’ll score a few by accident….
- Jimmy Vesey, NYR – He’s on the top line and is also tied for the team lead in goals. But wait. Sporadic ice time. No assists. A couple of small red flags that could mean inconsistency is just around the corner.
- Zach Werenski, CLB – Werenski has played fewer than 20 minutes in only one game, is a constant on the first PP unit, and takes a ton of shots. Need I say more?
- Mitch Marner, TOR – I’m not sure there is anything left to say about Marner that hasn’t been said on this site already. If you drafted Marner, you’re like that smart guy way back when, who ignored the Kovalchuk hype and took his just-as-good-but less-hyped teammate, Dany Heatley. Oh wait, that was me…. Damn. I’m old.
- Sebastian Aho, CAR – Aho did well out of the gate but has cooled off these last few games. Still, his ice time is steadily increasing and he continues to play on the 2nd PP unit.
- Scott Wilson, PIT – Wingman! With 24 games played last year, Wilson just barely makes the cut as a rookie. And in the seemingly perpetual search for Sidney Crosby’s left winger, he is the LW du Jour. Normally, that’s worth a flyer, but this time it seems like a bit more. To wit: Four points in his last five games, ice time trending upward, and a smidgen of PP time. SOG? Check. Hits? Check. Competition? Yep, still Chris Kunitz. For some reason, I like Wilson’s chances to stick on Crosby’s line.
- Travis Konecny, PHI – Playing on a line with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek, Konecny’s ice time has continued to rise, and he’s getting 2nd unit PP time.
RUNNING UP THAT HILL
Keep an eye on these guys. They’ve been showing up on the scoresheet lately and many are still flying under the radar, even in deep leagues.
- Mike Matheson, FLA – Matheson is a sneaky good play right now. His ice time and SOG have remained steady, and his PP time has risen in each of the past four games.
- Joel Eriksson-Ek, MIN – Pure spec play here, as he is replacing the injured Erik Haula, who should be back later this week. Eriksson-Ek (Man, I love these Swedish hyphenate names) has been producing despite very limited minutes, to the tune of five points in five games. The other night, he scored a highlight reel goal, making a couple of defenders look silly and wristing a tough angled shot past the goalie. Watch and see if this doesn’t get him bumped up to the top six for at least the next week. He’s definitely making the case to stay in the bigs.
- Devin Shore, DAL – I’m not sure Shore can sustain his near point-per-game pace, but he’s done enough to get my attention. He is currently centering the third line, and his ice time has gone up steadily in his eight games played. Where it gets interesting is that he is also in the middle of the 2nd PP unit, with Jason Spezza and Jiri Hudler. Red flag alert, though – and this is why I don’t fully trust it will continue: He’s gone over a single shot in a game only twice.
- Radek Faksa, DAL – Faksa is another Dallas center that is worth watching. (I’m cheating a bit here, because with 45GP last year, he is no longer rookie eligible). In his case, he is getting the opportunity but not the production to match just yet. Billed as a good two-way player, Faksa is currently on the second line and getting a bit of PP time. Keep an eye on him.
- Ryan Dzingel, OTT – While I’m cheating around the 25GP rookie cap (30 GP last season), let’s slip Dzingel into the conversation. He’s intriguing but not a sure bet to sustain his numbers, as the production far exceeds his opportunity (11:55 average TOI; 00:39 PP). But here is one good reason why you should believe (other than the fact that his gameplay is off the charts right now): The coach likes him. Yep. Raved about him in camp, and now is seeing his prized pupil have some success in the regular season. Can you see additional ice time in his future now?
- Matthew Tkachuk, CAL – Well, well. Two straight scratches followed by three straight games with assists. At eight games played, that could be just enough to keep him with the big league club. Don’t get too excited though. His ice time is still quite low at 11:22 since the benching, with no shots at all in two of those three games. He’s a great keeper stash, but don’t expect the points to continue at this pace while he is stuck on the third line.
- Mikko Rantanen, COL – After starting the season in the minors, Rantanen is back up with the Avalanche now. And while he’s got no points in two games, he is getting plum ice time, and over three minutes per game on the man advantage. Playing on a line with Nathan MacKinnon sounds promising, too.
- Pavel Buchnevich, NYR – After returning from a back injury last week, Buchnevich picked up where he left off, and then some. His playing time actually increased over two minutes per game, and he’s seeing plenty of time on the man advantage. So if you’re still wondering if he’s worth the pick-up, the answer is a big YES.
DON’T GIVE UP
- Jesse Puljujarvi, EDM – As of this writing Puljujarvi has played seven games with the Oilers, and with under twelve minutes of ice time (with a dash of PP time sprinkled in) it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see him sent to the minors before he hits the 10-game threshold. Still, the comparisons to players like Sundin, Selanne, and Hossa, make it so hard to drop him if you own him. I’d keep a watch on him for the next couple at least. If he sticks, he is worth a stash him on keeper teams at the very least.
- Dylan Strome, ARI – Strome was on a lot of watch lists to start the year, but lately he has been out of the lineup (as a healthy scratch) more than in. That prolongs his 9-game entry level eligibility, but doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. In the games he has played, they have put him on the PP, so there is still potential for him to emerge as the Coyotes second line center.
- Shea Theodore, ANA – I’m not sure I get what Anaheim is up to with Theodore, other than that they have far too much depth on the blue line and don’t know where to put him. He has fit in well on the power play in his four games with the Ducks; and in his last two averaged 20 minutes on the ice. And yet, they sent him down again. Keep an eye on him – not if, but when – they call him up again.
- Kyle Connor, WPG – Connor is not exactly lighting it up with his two points in eight games. But he’s playing on a team with a clear youth movement happening, so he’s going to continue to get his chances. The lack of ice time is a little worrisome, but he is getting PP minutes, so he’s got a chance to contribute more going forward.
- Ryan Sproul, DET – Sproul is more of a wait-and-see kind of guy right now. As a defenceman, his 15:14 average ice time just barely makes him relevant. But, factor in that 2:40 of that is PP time and you can call me intrigued.
- Kevin Fiala, NAS – Fiala has been hyped as the total offensive package, so he should get a good look on the first line. At the moment, his ice time is trending downward, so take a wait and see approach here.
As always, thanks for reading, folks! If there’s anyone that I’ve missed that you’d like to talk about, please post in the discussion thread below.